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HR Insights with Ali: Natural Disasters and What to do When Tragedy Strikes

Posted on 10/13/2017 by Ali Oromchian, Esq.
Although it is difficult to think about a natural disaster affecting you or your practice, it’s crucial to have a plan in place if disaster strikes. With the fires happening in California and the hurricanes happening across the country, it is imperative that you are prepared if something were to happen to your practice. Below is a breakdown of how to pay each type of employee in these situations, as well as some helpful resources that you can inform your employees about to support them in case of a natural disaster.

How do I pay my employees if my office is closed as a result of a natural disaster?

1. Non-Exempt Employees
Employees that are classified as non-exempt are only required to be paid for time that they are actually working, in accordance with FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) regulations. Therefore, should you need to close your practice due to a natural disaster, you are not required to pay these employees for this time.

2. Exempt Employees
Employees that are classified as exempt must be paid their full salary if the office is closed for less than a workweek. An employer may require their exempt employees to use their vacation leave for this time, as well as allow them to use their Paid Time Off or Sick Leave if you are in a state or municipality that requires Sick Leave.
If an exempt employee chooses to stay home because of the weather or a natural disaster but your practice is still open for business, you may also require that they use their vacation leave for this time or deduct from their salary if they are out for a full work day. The reason you can deduct in this scenario is because the U.S. Department of Labor states that "an employee who is absent due to inclement weather, such as because of transportation difficulties, is absent for personal reasons." It’s important to keep in mind, however, that if the employee completes any amount of work during that day they are required to be paid their full salary.
Although deductions may be permitted under specific circumstances, it’s advised that exempt employees be paid their full salaries, regardless of number of hours worked.

What resources do my employees have access to for wage support?

1. State Unemployment
The first step that employees may take is to apply for unemployment during the time the practice is closed. In most states, if an employee is out of work due to a natural disaster, the employer’s unemployment funds are not charged.

2. Federal Relief
If your state does not provide unemployment support for disasters, your employees can refer to a program called Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA). DUA is a federally funded program that provides assistance for those affected by disasters who cannot apply for state unemployment. For information about unemployment insurance and disaster unemployment assistance, you can call the Department of Labor’s Employment Training Administration at 1-877-US-2JOBS (1-877-872-5627).
You can also visit the website below regarding Disaster Unemployment Assistance.:
If you have any questions regarding what the next best steps are for your practice in the case of disaster, please reach out to an HR specialist or employment counsel.


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